Local bank rings in New Year with CEO succession

dillon and cherry

Larry Dillon, left, will be succeeded by Tom Cherry. (C&F)

A changing of the guard has occurred at a Richmond-area bank, as its longtime chief executive has passed the torch after nearly three decades.

C&F Bank CEO Larry Dillon stepped down from his post Jan. 1.

Taking over is Tom Cherry, who has been groomed for the role for years after rising as chief accounting officer, CFO and most recently as president since joining the West Point-based company 22 years ago.

The bank first publicly announced the succession plan in April.

For Dillon, the changeover ends a run that began in 1989 when at age 36 he took over C&F for the late Bill Robinson, who was 77 at the time.

The bank had six branches, $141 million in assets and fewer than 100 employees at the time.

Now 65, Dillon hands to Cherry a $1.5 billion bank with more than two dozen branches and 650 employees.

C&F’s branch on Patterson Avenue in the West End. (Michael Schwartz)

Cherry came on as chief accounting officer in 1996, after working for seven years for accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers in Norfolk.

He recalled his initial thoughts about leaving the world of big accounting for tiny West Point, Virginia.

“I have to tell you, I said ‘What have I gotten myself into?’” he said. “I was in downtown West Point and I had come from the world of public accounting, where it was fast-paced and up, up, up.”

He said he didn’t aspire at the time to become CEO.

“My goal then was just to become CFO of the bank,” he said. “My experience with banking at the time was auditing banks. The traditional CEO has grown up in banking on the lending side.”

Twenty-two years later, Cherry said he is humbled to be C&F’s fourth chief executive and does not take lightly the weight of steering an enterprise that 650 workers rely on for their living.

Dillon said the fact that Cherry is aware of that weight gives him comfort that the bank is in the right hands.

“Tom is a bit of a worrier,” Dillon said. “I always thought if someone else were worried, I’d have to worry a little less.”

“We’ve got 650 families that need us to keep going as a business to provide an income, so I’m going to make sure that continues well beyond me. That’s why we’ve done this. I think Tom is very well prepared.”

The succession doesn’t mean the end of Dillon’s time at C&F, which he joined 41 years ago after jumping from a career as a bank examiner with the state’s Bureau of Financial Institutions.

His new title is executive chairman and he’s still on salary with the company, with plans to guide Cherry when needed

“I’m certainly not ready to retire, but it’s what’s best for the company,” Dillon said. “I plan to stick around for a while, and be an advisor and whatever they need around here.”

Dillon said he does plan to do some things that are typical of retirement, such as spend more time with his grandkids, play a little more golf and do a little more traveling. But that will take him only so far.

“I get bored pretty easily, so I can’t do too much of one thing,” he said. “My wife told Tom, ‘I don’t care what you do with him as long as you give him an office and phone,’ which is what my old boss’s wife told me.”

C&F was founded in 1927 as Farmers and Mechanics Bank. During the Great Depression, it merged with the bank across the street, Citizens Exchange Bank, which resulted in the Citizens & Farmers brand, now known largely as C&F.

In recent years it weathered the recession and took over the troubled Central Virginia Bank in 2014, and it has remained independent in an age of rampant consolidation.

Cherry said that growth will continue under his watch.

The bank has a new branch in the works in Charlottesville – its second in that market.

It will continue to make a more aggressive push into commercial lending and soon will open an office in Williamsburg, where the bank will offer commercial lending, mortgage loan origination and wealth management services.

Cherry said the office will be in Williamsburg’s New Town area and won’t be a full-service branch. The bank has signed a lease and hopes to open by the end of the first quarter.

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